Caladesi Island State Park is an outstanding natural destination in the Tampa Bay Area for nature walks, relaxing, beach-combing, birding, wildlife-watching, saltwater fishing, and playing in and on the water. Because it takes a little extra effort to get to the island, it never feels overcrowded – and always like a place you earned to enjoy. And of course, there are no cars driving around anywhere.
The only way to get to Caladesi Island is via the waterways – by private boat or ferry. But those in the know and health, can also paddle over from the Dunedin Causeway or even walk up from Clearwater Beach.
In some ways, Caladesi Island truly appears to be the Florida Gulf Coast’s best kept secret – that is open to the public. Granted, there may be lots of secrets we haven’t discovered yet. What makes it such a well-kept secret is that it takes a bit of extra knowledge, effort, money, or planning to get there.
Even the island’s marina (which offers food and other concessions, and several overnight boat-camping spots) is not visible if you happen to cruise by its entrance on a boat. You’ve got to know it’s there – and then follow the signs to maneuver into the canal through the mangrove.
Most visitors probably just visit the island to the north, Honeymoon Island, without fully realizing what a gem lies to the south. Actually, the two used to be one single island.
What to Do On and Around Caladesi Island
We have to emphasize the “around” Caladesi Island because our favorite activity has been paddling along the east side of the island – facing St. Joseph sound and the mainland. Here the water is so shallow and clear that you get to see all kinds of wildlife, like stingrays, sharks, crabs, and lots of fish. There’s an abundance of birds along the sandy shore (e.g., great blue herons, snowy egrets, sandpipers), in the mangrove trees (e.g., roseate spoonbills, pelicans) and plunging down into the water (e.g., osprey) or diving down (e.g., cormorant) to catch fish. And if the timing is right, you’ll get to see manatees grazing and dolphins jumping.
Of course, there are miles of vast white sand beach along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico on the west side and at the northern tip, facing Honeymoon Island across Hurricane Pass. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent. The beach is accessible by the elevated boardwalk – and beach wheelchairs are available for free.
The state park maintains 3 miles of trails through the wooded center of the island. The Mangrove Kayak Trail invites you to explore the unique landscape and wildlife of saltwater mangrove forest. You can do a shorter or the full 3-mile trail. There are even ruins of the 1800s Scharer Homestead to be discovered. It’s possible to rent kayaks at the marina for $25 a person.
Bring or make your own food! Besides having your entire picnic ready because you followed some of the Happier Place outdoor food and drink recipes, you can also reserve picnic tables with grills and cook on the island.
link to GMB